Ex-Niles mayor Ralph Infante appeals conviction

Former Niles Mayor Ralph Infante. Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple

WARREN — Ralph Infante, the former longtime mayor of Niles, on Monday afternoon filed an appeal of his conviction on corruption and gambling charges that led to a 10-year sentence behind bars.

Infante was found guilty in May in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court on 22 of 32 charges, including engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, and various gambling and theft-in-office counts.

Cleveland defense attorney David Doughten filed the appeal in the 11th District Court of Appeals, claiming the conviction, after a jury trial, should be overturned and Infante should be granted a new trial. In a 35-page document, Doughten claims the trial court erred seven times.

Some of Doughten’s assignments of error include that there was insufficient evidence to convict Infante on the charge of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, that there was insufficient evidence to convict him of tampering with records, that the court denied Infante due process by allowing “improper lay opinion” as testimony, that the state lacked jurisdiction to try Infante for tampering with federal records and that the court should have allowed offenses used to convict him for engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity to be merged.

Doughten claims there wasn’t enough evidence to establish Infante ran a criminal enterprise “designed to benefit only himself,” the appeal states.

“The state’s theory here is that while the mayor of the city of Niles, Infante allowed a number of individuals, independent of each other, to commit small offenses which benefited Infante. In other words, to borrow a conspiracy law theory, Infante acted as the wheel and all the independent acts were spokes to his wheel. The problem is, these actions, even if accurate, do not constitute an enterprise. There was no ‘association-in-fact’ as charged in the indictment,” the appeal states.

“Simply stated, the participants here did not have a common purpose. Each individual had a similar purpose, that was to better their particular situation, but that is not the same as a common purpose, which is required by the statute,” the appeal states.

Visiting Judge Patricia Cosgrove said there was “overwhelming evidence” against Infante when she revoked his bond after the jury came back with the guilty verdicts.

Infante was found guilty on 13 tampering with records charges, two counts of gambling, two counts of operating a gambling house, two counts of theft in office, one count of unlawful interest in a public contract, one count of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity and falsification.

The jury found him not guilty on three additional tampering with records charges, including one dealing with an Ohio Ethics Board disclosure form and the filing of his 2012 federal income tax form. Infante was found not guilty of three counts of bribery, as well as additional counts dealing with allegations he used his position to get jobs for city workers.

Through live and digitally recorded testimony, state officials with the Ohio attorney general’s office worked to establish a case that showed Infante used the mayor’s office to obtain services and gifts that benefited himself and others that began shortly after he was first elected mayor in 1992.

The prosecutors used bank, Ohio Ethics Board and tax records, as well as information seized from his home and the McKinley Heights’ ITAM 39, which Infante and his wife owned, to illustrate their case.

In the investigation of this case, state officials filed charges against former Niles auditor Charles Nader, who pleaded guilty to theft-in-office and ethics charges. Nader testified during Infante’s trial and was sentenced to three years of probation.

Infante’s wife, Judith, pleaded no contest to one felony and one misdemeanor falsification count. She was sentenced to one year of probation and 50 hours of community service.